Recruitment of Colombian Children into Armed Gangs
Statistics on the recruitment of Colombian children into armed gangs show cause for concern. According to Reuters, armed gangs in Colombia forcibly recruited 313 Colombian children and adolescents between 2018 and 2020. Furthermore, armed gangs forcibly recruited more than 7,400 Colombians under the age of 18 between 1985 and 2020 and as many as 16,000 children lost their lives during Colombia’s conflict. Illegal armed gangs usually recruit children to increase their member numbers and help gangs in “competition for territorial control.” Examples of the largest illegal armed gangs are the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) — far-left guerrilla groups that fought in the Colombian conflict beginning in 1964.

Methods of Recruitment

Gangs often prey on impoverished children by “offering money, drugs, alcohol, clothes, motorcycles or weapons.” The lack of government presence and aid is another facet that makes children in certain communities in Colombia more vulnerable, leaving them “with few alternatives.” Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated poverty in Colombia, which rose from a figure of 35.7% in 2019 to 42.5% in 2020.

A report by Reuters established that in 2020 “between 18.9 million and 23.9 million Colombians lived on less than $91 a month” while “15 million missed one meal a day” and others stood on the brink of starvation. This augmented the ease by which gangs were able to recruit children as gangs could “boost their social contol” in impoverished communities, InSight Crime said.

School closures at the onset of the pandemic meant that many rural children who did not have access to internet and technological devices could not continue learning. “The free time and lack of supervision provided them with ample opportunities to carry out assignments for armed groups,” according to InSight Crime.

Amid the pandemic, higher poverty rates and dwindling alternatives to gang recruitment left children more susceptible to gangs than before. Reports suggest that gangs use these children “in different stages of the drug trafficking business” as well as for purposes of sexual exploitation by employing threats and violence and promising better living conditions.

Colombian courts do not express leniency for individuals recruited as children once these individuals reach 18. Courts treat child soldiers who reach adulthood as perpetrators instead of victims of the gang recruitment system.

Efforts to Address the Issue

In the past, programs to prevent the recruitment of Colombian children into Armed Gangs have suffered from underfunding and a lack of support.

The Barça Foundation, in partnership with Gran Tierra and the Bogota Chamber of Commerce, is collaborating to prevent “the recruitment of young people in border states of the country.” The Barça Foundation runs the program “Sport for peace,” which focuses on “generating opportunities for inclusion through sport for children and young people living in socially conflictive environments.” In Bogota, these collaborative partnerships have positively impacted more than 2,000 youths.

Children Change Colombia is an NGO that works with other local organizations, such as Fundación CRAN and Tiempo de Juego, to improve the safety of communities and “keep children off the streets” to reduce the risk of violence and recruitment into armed gangs. The CRAN organization annually “provides foster homes and psychosocial support to 50 children formerly associated with illegal armed groups.” CRAN also provides information to local organizations on how to safeguard about 300 children annually in rural areas as these areas are where the recruitment of Colombian children into armed gangs is most prevalent.

While the recruitment of Colombian children into armed gangs is a cause of concern, NGOs are hard at work to help prevent this. Providing children with more compelling alternatives to joining gangs and working to reduce overall poverty are the most important ways that the government of Colombia and aid organizations can help.

– Priya Maiti
Photo: Flickr

Colombia's National Development PlanWhile Colombia has magnificent landscapes and rich cultural history, the country is also rooted in deep political and economic inequality. In 2018, Colombia’s poverty rate stood at 27.8%; this measure defines poverty as those living on less than $5.50 a day. Unfortunately, Colombian households led by women are more likely to endure poverty. Thus, Colombia finds itself in need of reform. Hopefully, poverty will decrease with the implementation of Colombia’s National Development plan.

A Look Into Colombia’s Recent History

Colombia’s poverty rates and development plan cannot be explained without the inclusion of the country’s last five decades of civil unrest. Colombia’s civil war involves the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARQ), the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Colombian government. The conflict largely revolves around the call for economic reform. The FARQ and the ELN were founded in the 1960s to “oppose the privatization of natural resources and claim to represent the rural poor against Colombia’s wealthy.”

Although the FARQ and the ELN cite good intentions, Colombia’s civil war has led to at least 220,000 deaths, 25,000 disappearances and 5.7 million displacements “over the last half-century.” The U.S. State Department calls these groups terrorist organizations. Unfortunately, the consequences of this civil war, like all other civil wars, had devastating effects on the countries’ social and political spheres. In 2016, the Colombian Government and the leaders of the FARQ signed a peace agreement, hoping to bring unity to the country.

The National Development Plan

However, three years later, the promises of reinsertion, protection programs and rural remain unfulfilled and the violence continues. Fortunately, this could change with Colombia’s National Development Plan (PND). This proposal “combines the government’s financial resources with grassroots participation which the government calls ‘co-creating together,’ a form of engagement that will play a key role in building sustainable peace.”

Launched by President Iván Duque in 2018, Colombia’s National Development Plan has a budget of $325 billion. The plan hopes to address societal, social, economic and political issues within the country. But, its most ambitious goals rest on “education, employment, entrepreneurship and environmental sustainability.”

Eradicating Poverty

One major goal of the PND is to bridge the gap between the economic classes, eradicating extreme poverty. Today, 1.9 million Colombians are in extreme poverty; the government hopes to implement the Sisben IV program, which “will see State resources delivered to the most vulnerable members of society through subsidies.”

The PND aims to alleviate poverty by stimulating the economy in a multitude of ways; state subsidies are just one example. For instance, Colombia plans to develop creative industries, “such as visual arts, software development and cultural industries.” The national administration also plans to reduce unemployment by more than 1% through the creation of 1.6 million jobs. Additionally, “The plan is also targeting the development of international trade and the promotion of foreign investment in Colombia as a means of increasing the capacity of the economy.”

Education and the Environment

Increasing employment and subsidies will certainly help the economy directly. But, the PND also hopes to improve the economy in the long run by developing education systems and improving the environment. For example, the PND hopes to increase participation in the public education system. Administrators aim to double “the number of students who are attending a single session school day from 900,000 to 1.8 million.” In terms of the environment, President Duque’s plan aims to invest $3 billion in sustainable development and to plant “180 million trees in order to stimulate a rejuvenation of the environment.”

For five decades Colombia has struggled with internal strife, leaving the country torn in the political, social and economic arenas. Colombia’s most vulnerable people, the impoverished, have seen little improvement in recent years. Colombia’s civil unrest and high poverty rates left little hope for the future. However, the 2018 National Development plan sparks the potential for change. The plan proposes both direct and long-term solutions for poverty through investments in education, employment, the environment and the economy. Hopefully, Colombia’s National Development plan will benefit the nation’s impoverished communities.

Ana Paola Asturias
Photo: Flickr